Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance and the LCBO, 1927-1975

LCBO Surveillance Technologies

Punch Cards, IBM & Statistical Analysis


Reviewing Purchases

Purchases of alcohol were to be limited to “well behaved citizens and visitors” purchasing within their “financial means” and strictly kept away from those “abusing the permit privilege”(LCBO Circular 333, 1928). Unlike today, the ability to purchase alcohol was considered to be a privilege and could be revoked by the LCBO at any time. Each time an individual went into an LCBO store and made a purchase his/her permit would be inspected by the LCBO vendor to see that purchases had not reached an excessive level or that they were not purchasing beyond his/her economic means.

From the information presented in the Permit Book, combined with their “considerable local knowledge of conditions,” vendors were to draw into the purchase review process “data as to the man’s age, occupation, employers, mari[tal status], number of dependents, whether a house-owner, an idea of his annual earnings or income, and whether he has a police court record” when determining if a liquor purchase should be allowed (LCBO Circular 333, 1928 ; LCBO Circular 497, 1928).

In cases of those “who really require the closest supervision,” the local vendor affixed to the user’s Liquor Permit a “Regional Stamp” (LCBO Circular 829, 1929). This Regional Stamp:

in effect, would mean [the liquor permit] would only be good at the store nearest to the domicile of the permit holder. The advantages of such an arrangement would be that the one vendor would know all about all the purchases of those whom he sold liquor, and so be, therefore in a better position to exercise proper control…On the other hand, there would appear to be absolutely no reason why the regional principle should not be adopted in the case of those who really require the closest supervision, of a vendor knowing all about them and their circumstances…It has, therefore, been decided, pursuant to the foregoing, to stamp all permits under suspicion, but as yet uncollected, so as to make such permits good only in the store convenient to the residence of the permittee and where the permittee is known. In all such cases, vendors must take a very special interest in the affairs of the permittee, become responsible for his purchases of liquors, and see that the existing instructions are carried out to the very letter…Each vendor will be furnished with a rubber stamp reading thus: ‘Purchases are henceforth confined only to Store No.’ This is to be stamped by the Vendor on the line following the last entry, when such limitation is, in the opinion of the vendor, necessary…This stamp should be repeated at the top of the next two or three pages, in order to ensure that other vendors will turn the permittee back to the Vendor who has made the restriction. The Vendor so acting will have the permittee under his sole control and will be responsible for the reasonable use of the permit (LCBO Circular 859, 1929).

The Regional Stamp would then make the permittee’s liquor permit only valid in a single store and this information would be relayed to Head Office to be added to the filed second copy (LCBO Circular 859, 1929).

The LCBO also decided that certain individuals needed their purchases to be controlled and placed a “limited consumption” restriction on their permits. Those deemed in need of “limited consumption,” as well as those refused liquor outright, received stamps in their permits and were recorded in the Vendor’s red “Refusals” book (LCBO Circular 941, 1930; LCBO Circular 1888, 1937; LCBO Circular 1893, 1937; LCBO Circular S-764, 1963). If a vendor felt that a permittee was over-consuming liquor, the Regional Stamp was applied, and the standards of acceptable behaviour were reaffirmed by writing on the permit the quantity of beer or liquor that the permit holder could acceptably purchase:

he will write on the permit the quantity of beer per week to which he considers such permittee should be restricted and, in addition, the number of the local brewery or brewer’s warehouse from which he feels the permittee may obtain the same, viz., - Purchases are henceforth confined only to store No. … Beer in quantities not exceeding ...(Insert quantity), per week may be obtained from Brewer’s warehouse (or Brewery) No. … At the same time he must advise the Permit Department of having placed the regional restriction on the permit in question and a copy of such advice should be sent to the brewery or brewer’s warehouse Inspector in charge of the brewery or brewer’s warehouse to which the restriction applies (LCBO Circular 941, 1930).

The refusals, who required the aforementioned “kindly, well placed words” to inform them that they had been purchasing too much liquor, also had their Permit Books stamped. As the Board explained:

frequently it becomes necessary for a Vendor or Permit Clerk to refuse to supply a customer with the liquor ordered due to various reasons, such as excessive purchases or an unreasonable amount or money being spent therefore. In such cases, for the information and guidance of Vendors in other stores, we instruct that an entry be made on the permit along the lines of the following example, taking care, of course to use the proper store number:
           Date        Alc’l        Beer        Spts.        Wine        Store No.        Initials
           10/05        R.            R.            R.             R.               10                 A.B.

The use of the letter “R” in the four columns of the permit signifies refusal and this will indicate to other vendors that such a permit holder has been refused and thus tend to prevent a practice which has no doubt been followed by certain permit holders who find themselves unable to obtain their requirements at certain stores (LCBO Circular 403, 1928).

In both the cases of stamped permits and red “R’s, these markings made the special classification of the permittee plainly visible.

Those found to be “abusing their permit privilege” by drinking too much, or acting in an unacceptable way were cut off and listed on the LCBO’s list of known drunkards – the Interdiction List.


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